The Right to a Fair Trial – My Experience as a Juror

This past April, I performed my civic duty and served as a juror.  It was a difficult case and I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating whether or not to write about my experience.  The experience was life changing and there are so many thoughts I want to share, but I just can’t seem to translate them into a proper post right now.  Yet I’m compelled to say something about it today, so . . . here it goes.

I was one of twelve jurors who sat on a criminal case wherein the State of Tennessee had the burden of proving the following charges against the defendant:  10 counts of rape of a minor and two counts of criminal exposure to HIV.  Prior to jury selection, the judge informed the jury pool of these charges.  When he read them aloud, one person gasped, others shifted in their seats, and I froze in a moment of sheer panic.  The thought of having to hear the details in such a case made my heart ache and my stomach churn.  Of all the trials to be seated on, why did it have to be one like this?

As I waited to see if I would be called for jury selection, I took a deep breath and braced myself for whatever might come.  A short time later, I was called to the jury box.  As I listened to the D.A.’s questions, which I answered thoughtfully and honestly, I was hit with the reality of the importance of a juror’s job.  I looked across the room at the defendant, a man who was to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.  Hearing charges such as these, who isn’t inclined to rush to judgement?  But, as stated in the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, this man had “the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury”.   I thought, with charges such as these, can I make that presumption?  Can I listen to the facts of the case and render an impartial verdict?  As a person who tries to live life with integrity, who firmly believes in the importance of hearing all sides of a story before passing judgment, my answer was yes.

The crimes with which the defendant was charged happened three years ago when he was age 30 and the victim was age 13.  As you can only imagine, listening to the testimony in this case was very difficult – especially the testimony of the victim who is now age 16.  It took an emotional toll on every person in that courtroom.  For me, the fact that the instances of rape in this case were the result of coercion and not force is the only thing that made the testimony easier to bear.  We heard testimony from four witnesses for the prosecution.  No witnesses came forward for the defense and the defendant waived his right to testify.  We did, however, watch the video of his interview with the investigating officer which took place after he was arrested for said charges.  There were several things submitted into evidence, the key items being two letters the defendant wrote to the victim when he was incarcerated for some other crime.  Aside from that, this was essentially a case of “He said, She said”.

Twelve of us sat on the jury throughout the trial knowing that, in the end, two of us would be drawn out as alternates and would not be a part of deliberation.  When the time came, on day four of the trial, I waited on pins and needles as the judge randomly selected the names of the two alternates from a fish bowl.  One might think that I would’ve hoped for my name to be drawn, but no; the idea of not being able to process and deliberate with my fellow jurors literally had me shaking.  There was one person, however, who struggled with being on the jury.  During jury selection, he told the D.A. that he would not be comfortable sitting in judgment of another human being.  I can only presume that it was the work of the Divine that his name was drawn as an alternate.  Thankfully, the other alternate seemed at peace with his fate, as well.

Deliberation was a bit tougher than I expected it to be.  I was fascinated by how differently some of my fellow jurors interpreted the information presented in the case.  Though they were few, there were some tense moments in the deliberation room.  In the end, we each voted our conscience and were at peace with the fact that we were in agreement on ten counts and hung on two counts.  On day five of the trial, we handed down our verdict:  guilty of nine counts of rape and one count of criminal exposure to HIV.

For many days afterward, the case was at the forefront of my mind.  Because of this experience, I now look at things through a different lens.  As I stated at the beginning of this post, there are so many thoughts I have to share.  Unfortunately, I think there are just too many to include in one post, so perhaps I’ll share pieces on the blog from time to time.  For now, I can offer this bit of closure.  I was not able to attend the sentencing hearing, which was yesterday, June 14, 2012, so the lead prosecutor very graciously emailed me to share the results of the hearing:

Ms. Leyers,

(The defendant) was sentenced to 50 years to serve in prison.  The first 40 years are at 100%, the last 10 years at 35%.  That means he’ll serve the first 40 years without any parole eligibility.  The defendant testified at the hearing and was so despicable and violent that the entire courtroom full of people there for the regular docket became engaged in watching and supporting the victim.  Strangers were talking to her in the hallway and offering their prayers after it was over.  He is an exceedingly violent person who does not need to be on our streets.  His prior convictions were all violent crimes against innocent victims including an aggravated kidnapping (carjacking) and aggravated burglary.      

Thank you for being part of getting him off the streets.   

%d bloggers like this: